Group C Preview
This will be the first time in Austria’s history that they will be competing in consecutive Euro tournaments, and their third overall having co-hosted 2008. However, they have failed to progress beyond the Group Stages in those appearances, and have had no finals tournament victories since 1990.
Despite losing their opening two games of qualifying, they finished second in Group G behind Poland, and 5pts ahead of third placed North Macedonia. They also finished as top scorers in Group G, whilst managing a 0-0 draw in Poland.
Since qualifying, they have finished top of Group B1 in the Nations League losing just one game (3-2 at home against Romania) but haven’t had the best success in their World Cup Qualifiers; drawing away in Scotland and getting hammered 4-0 at home against Denmark.
Franco Foda took charge in January 2018, guiding them to League A promotion in the Nations League and also Euro 2020 qualification. He has experimented with a back three in friendlies, as well as in the opening World Cup Qualifier against Scotland, but generally sticks to a 4-2-3-1 formation with his team tending to dominate games with an aggressive press.
There is a HUGE question mark hanging over who will be between the sticks by the time the summer tournament starts. During qualification, they used FOUR goalkeepers with FC Basel’s Lindner (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5m) playing the opening four games and RB Salzburg’s Stankovic (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m) the following four. The no. 1 jersey was then given to LASK’s A. Schlager (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m) and Wolfsburg’s Pervan (FT: £5m / EO: £4.5m) for the remaining two qualifiers, and they have shared ‘keeping duties since then with the former seemingly the favourite having had more game time in the domestic season and also starting the recent World Cup Qualifiers. However, the emergence of Watford’s Bachmann (FT: TBC / EO: £4.5m) raises more questions, despite yet making his international debut.
The back four, however, seems close to being set in stone. Bayer 04 Leverkusen’s Dragovic (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5m) and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Hinteregger (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m) will form the defensive duo at centre-back, with Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Lainer (FT: £5m / EO: £5m) playing at right back.
In the last three competitive matches where a back four has been used, RB Salzburg’s Ulmer (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m) has been positioned at left back with Bayern Munich’s utility man Alaba (FT: £5m / EO: £5.5m) playing on the left side of the attacking supportive-three. However, the latter is listed as a midfielder in the Official game
A cruciate ligament injury to Bayer 04 Leverkusen’s Baumgartlinger (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6m) has put into doubt his potential involvement in the summer, meaning that it would be up to one of Hoffenheim’s Grillitsch (FT: TBC / EO: £6m) or Wolfsburg’s X. Schlager (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5.5m) to partner Eintracht Frankfurt’s Ilsanker (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5.5m) in the double-pivot.
If Grillitsch does take up his natural defensive midfield spot in Baumgartlinger’s absence, then all is not lost for X. Schlager who could use his versatility to join RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer (FT: £5.5m / EO: £8m) and Hoffenheim’s Baumgartner (FT: £5m / EO: £7m) in the supportive attacking-three should Alaba move to left back.
There is a huge doubt surrounding the involvement of Shanghai Port’s Arnautovic (FT: £5.5m / EO: £7m) due to form and fitness. He has only played twice for Austria since scoring 6 goals in 8 qualifying games, and was not named in their latest World Cup qualifying squad.
If he does not participate this summer, then the hopes of the Austrian faithful will seemingly lie upon the shoulders of Stuttgart’s Kalajdzic (FT: TBC / EO: £7.5m) who has scored 3 times in his last 3 international appearances, whilst also being involved in 21 goals in 31 appearances in the Bundesliga this season. Alternatively they could look to FC Lorients Grbic (FT: £5m / EO: £6.5m) who, whilst only netting 4 goals in 32 appearances in Ligue 1 this season, has scored 4 goals in his 9 international appearances despite only starting twice.
The Dutch will be looking for their first win at the Euro Championships since 2008, having failed to qualify for the 2016 tournament and losing all three group games in 2012.
However, their fortunes have changed recently having been runners-up to Portugal in the inaugural Nations League, after topping their group that contained France and Germany
They finished second behind Germany in qualifying, who inflicted their only defeat in the group.
Since qualification, they also finished second to Italy in Group A1 of the recent Nations League campaign and started their World Cup Qualification with a 4-2 defeat against Turkey.
Frank de Boer took over in September 2020 after Ronald Koeman was lured to Barcelona, and he became the first Dutch manager to fail to win any of his first 4 games in charge after a friendly loss to Mexico, successive draws against Bosnia and Italy in the Nations League, and a 1-1 draw with Spain. Since then he has won 4 of his last 5 games. He generally goes with a traditional Dutch 4-3-3 system, but did trial a 3-5-2 in their 1-1 in Italy.
Valencia’s Cillessen (FT: TBC / EO: £5.5m) has been the undisputed no.1 for years despite limited playtime when at Barcelona, but has had a few injury setbacks recently. He had a lengthy lay-off due to a muscle injury at the end of 2020, which meant he missed the Autumn Nations League games, before suffering a knee injury in his last call-up to the national squad, which kept him out of action until late April. Should he have a reoccurrence of any of these injuries then Norwich’s Krul (FT: £6m / EO: £4.5m) is a worthwhile deputy.
It is also touch and go over Liverpool’s Van Dijk (FT: TBC / EO: £6.5m) who suffered a ruptured cruciate ligament injury last October and is scheduled to be back at the end of May. If he does not make it back in time for the tournament, then Inter Milan’s de Vrij (FT: £6m / EO: £5.5m) will more than likely get the shout to form the centre back pairing with de Ligt (FT: £6m / EO: £5.5m). However, de Boer could also opt to shift Ajax’s Blind (FT: £6m / EO: £5m) to play alongside the Juventus man, with Alkmaar’s Wijndal (FT: £5.5m / EO: £4.5m) taking the left back spot. Meanwhile, PSV Eindhoven’s Dumfries (FT: £5.5m / EO: £5.5m) should be the go to option at right back with Atalanta’s Hateboer (FT: £6m / EO: £5m) an alternative for the Dutch.
Two of the midfield trio are pretty much cemented as we will see Barcelona’s de Jong (FT: £8m / EO: £7m) team up with Liverpool’s Wijnaldum (FT: £7m / EO: £8m). However, since coming back from injury, Atalanta’s de Roon (FT: TBC / EO: £5.5m) has had to make do with a seat on the bench in the last two World Cup Qualifiers with Ajax’s Klaassen (FT: £6.5m / EO: £5.5m) being preferred as the more advanced midfielder.
On the right hand side of the front three should be Feyonaard’s Berghuis (FT – £6.5m / EO – £7m) who has started 4 out of the last 5 matches for the Dutch and has been involved in 30 goals in 29 games so far this season in the Eredivisie (17 goals, 13 assists). On the other side of the front three could be Lyon’s Depay (FT – £8.5m / EO – £10m) who has scored 19 goals and assisted 10 in Ligue 1. The reason why I said ‘could be’ is because out of the last 8 games he has played for Holland, he has been deployed as the striker on 5 occasions (which is why he is listed as a forward in the Official game).
Despite warming the bench for Sevilla this season (he has only started 37% of the matches in La Liga, scoring 4 goals in 32 appearances), de Jong (FT: £8m / EO: £7.5m) has been the go to striker in the Netherlands line-up for the last two World Cup qualifiers, and has started in 5 out of the last 7 competitive matches.
Should Depay oust de Jong as the central striker role, then that could open up the door for Eindhoven’s Malen (FT: £7.5m / EO: £6m) on the left-hand side of the front three having scored 18 goals in 31 appearances in the Eredivisie so far this season. An alternative for the attacking left role could be Spartak Moscow’s Promes (FT: £8m / EO: £7m) who has shone in the Russian League since his switch from Ajax in February. It should be noted that he also listed as a midfielder in the Official game.
Euro 2020 will be North Macedonia’s first every major tournament, having qualified via the play-offs due to their performance in the inaugural Nations League campaign where they finished first in Group D4, 5pts ahead of Armenia.
They went on to finish 2nd in Group C2 of the most recent Nations League campaign, losing out on promotion to League B on the last match day after their sole loss to, ironically, Armenia.
Their second defeat since qualifying came swiftly after against Romania in their opening World Cup qualifier match, but they bounced back with a 5-0 drubbing of Liechtenstein and a historic 2-1 win against Germany.
Igor Angelovski became manager in October 2015, and oversaw the World Cup 2018 qualification where their 3 victories was the most they have secured in a qualifying tournament since 1998. During his time as manager, North Macedonia have climbed 100 places in the FIFA rankings. He has yet to settle on a specific formation and used three different setups in their recent World Cup qualifying games (5-3-2, 4-4-2 and 3-5-2….. the latter being an attacking formation against Germany), having primarily used a 4-2-3-1 formation in their recent Nations League campaign.
In goal, North Macedonia have Rayo Vallenco’s no. 1 Dimitrievski (FT: £4m / EO: £4.5m) who is enjoying a good season in Spain’s second tier, keeping 9 clean-sheets in 26 games. However, there are question marks over his commandment of his box and his aerial ability.
Regardless of what formation is played, HNK Rijeka’s Velkovski (FT: £4m / EO: £4.5m) and Fehérvár’s Musliu (FT: £4m / EO: £4.5m) should occupy the centre back berths. Versatility is the key when it comes to the fullback positions. Dinamo Zagreb’s natural right back Ristovski (FT: £4m / EO: £4m) has the ability to fill in at both centre back, left back and on either side of midfield, whilst Leeds United’s Alioski (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m) can play in any position down the left-hand side. North Macedonia could also call upon Újpest’s Ristevski (FT: £4m / EO: £4m) to play in central defence if they go for a back 3 or 5.
The midfield is a bit of selection is really up in the air.
Lecce’s Nikolov (FT: TBC / EO: £5m) seems certain to play in a central defensive midfield and, dependant on formation, could be joined in the double pivot by one of either Lecce’s Spirovski (FT: TBC / EO: £5.5m) or Dinamo Zagreb’s Ademi (FT: TBC / EO: £5.5m); the latter having played the most recent game against Germany.
Despite struggling for game time at Napoli, Elmas (FT: £5m / EO: £6m) has started 6 out of the last 9 games for North Macedonia in a central attacking midfield position but can also play on the left side of midfield. The lack of starts at domestic level is also true for Levante’s Bardhi (FT: £5m / EO: £6m), who has only missed games for the national team due to a muscle injury in the autumn.
Ružomberok’s Kostadinov (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5.5m) is another attacking option for North Macedonia, and can play on either wing. However, he missed the latest squad call up after contracting Coronavirus.
After coming out of retirement back in October 2015 after a 2-year absence, Genoa’s 37-year old Pandev (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6.5m) now plays more in a supportive striker role for club and country. Although he has only missed three games since the beginning of qualifying, he has only managed to complete 90 minutes once. This means that Mallorca’s Trajovski (FT: £4.5m / EO: £7m) will be relied upon a lot this summer, and despite only making 8 appearances at domestic level this season, he ended his national goal drought with 3 goals in the latest round of World Cup qualifying matches. Back up for the two strikers is provided by Udinese’s Nestorovski (FT: £4.5m / EO: TBC) who is also suffering from lack of game time at domestic level.
Ukraine qualified for Euro 2020 as unbeaten winners in Group B – 3pts ahead of reigning European Champions, Portugal from whom they took 4pts off. Despite this being their third consecutive outing, they will be hoping to at least progress out of the group stage having finished the previous campaigns in 3rd and 4th position.
Only conceded twice
Things were very different after qualifying, suffering Nations League relegation to League B after winning just two games and drawing their last two World Cup qualifying matches against Finland and Kazakhstan.
However, positives can be drawn from the fact that one of their Nations League victories was a 1-0 win over Spain and that they also managed a 1-1 draw against France in their opening World Cup qualifying game.
Since taking over in July 2016, Andriy Shevchenko has led the Ukraine to 21 wins in 44 matches, and saw them complete their most successful European qualifiers to date. As manager, he has used no fewer than 6 different formations and over 60 players. During the European qualifiers and the recent Nations League campaign, he tended to use a 4-3-3 attacking setup; however, in the recent World Cup qualifiers he played a 3-4-1-2 formation against Finland and Kazakhstan after deploying a 3-4-2-1 against France.
At 36-years of age, Shakhtar Donetsk’s Pyatov (FT: £5m / EO: £5m) is Ukraine’s most senior member. He played every single game in the European qualifiers and the first two games of the Nations League, but missed the autumn squad call due to Coronavirus. Since then he has only played one more game (3-1 defeat against Germany) and was on the bench for the latest World Cup qualifiers. In his absence, Dynamo Kiev’s Bushchan (FT: TBC / EO: £4.5m) has played in two Nations League matches (including the 1-0 win over Spain) and the opening two World Cup qualifiers (including the 1-1 draw with France), missing the November matches due to Coronavirus, and heads into the tournament this summer in pole position for the no. 1 jersey.
In central defence, Shakhtar Donetsk’s Matvienko (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m) has played the most games under Shevchenko of any player (33) and has been near ever present at the back. He should be partnered with his club teammate Kryvtsov (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m), with Dynamo Kyiv’s Zabarnyi (FT: £4m / EO: £4.5m) likely to join them if a back three is played.
The full back positions in a 4-4-2 should be filled by Dynamo Kyiv duo Karavaev (FT: TBC / EO: £5m) and Mykolenko (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m); both of whom could also take up the winger positions in either a 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-1-2. Competition for the full back and wide positions are provided by their teammate Tymchyk (FT: TBC / EO: £4.5m) and Brugge’s Sobol (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m)
If Shevchenko reverts back to a three-man midfield, then the three central spots will be taken up by Man City’s Zinchenko (FT: £6m / EO: £5.5m), Shakhtar Donetsk’s Stepanenko (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5.5m) and Atalanta’s Malinovskyi (FT: 5.5m / EO: £7m); with the latter deployed in a more central supporting attacking role if a four-man midfield is used. Also of note, is that Zinchenko is listed as a defender in the Official game.
There are fitness concerns surrounding both West Ham’s Yarmolenko (FT: £6m / EO: £8.5m) – who missed the World Cup qualifiers due to lack of match fitness – and Shakhtar Donetsk’s Konoplyanka (FT: £5m / EO: £8m), who missed the last World Cup qualifier with a torn muscle. For the latter, tt is unknown if it is a reoccurrence of the same injury that saw him miss the last two Nations League games.
If Ukraine stick to a 4-3-3 formation, then Shevchenko will look to Dynamo Kiev’s Tsygankov (FT: £5m / EO: £6.5m) and Shakhtar Donetsk’s Brazilian-born Marlos (FT: £5.5m / EO: £6m) – although both of these players missed the latest squad call-ups for the World Cup qualifiers due to calf and muscle injuries respectively.
Due to the aforementioned fitness and injury concerns surrounding their attacking wide players, it seems likely that the Ukraine will roll out with one of the formations used in the latest World Cup qualifiers. Genk’s Yaremchuk (FT: £5.5m / EO: £7m) has been near ever present up top for the Ukraine, and could be partnered by Ferencvaros’ Zubkov (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6m) – who is listed as a midfielder in Fan Team – due to Shakhtar Donetsk’s Junior Moraes (FT: £5m / EO: n/a) being ruled out of the tournament due to ruptured cruciate ligament.
Alternatives for the potential second striker spot could lie with Dnipro-1’s Dovbyk (FT: TBC / EO: £5.5m) or Dynamo Kiev’s Besedin (FT: TBC / EO: £6m) who have only played 1 international game between them since qualifying began.
Group C Summary:
Using a budget of £80m on the Official game and a restriction of three player’s maximum per team, here is my best XI for Group C: